Pick a post-election scenario, then decide how to vote

05 May 2019 - 00:05

Only in politics can you swallow a nail and shit a corkscrew. In Britain they had local elections this past week. The Conservatives lost more than 1,300 seats, their worst performance in almost a quarter of a century. Labour, the opposition, did very badly too. And the kneejerk instinct of both parties and the newspapers that support them was to draw a conclusion that was the exact opposite of the truth.
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"Got the message? Deliver Brexit!" screamed the Daily Express on Friday. "So now will they listen?" screamed the Daily Mail, joining its rival in trying to blame the defeats on Prime Minister Theresa May's failure thus far to deliver the Brexit that Britain narrowly voted for nearly three years ago.Jeremy Corbyn, arguably Labour's least successful leader since Michael Foot, said the result was clearly a sign that the country wanted Labour and the Tories to strike a deal on Brexit.But here's the thing. The seats the Conservatives and Labour lost were won almost entirely by parties that want to keep Britain in the EU.
What do you do as an ordinary citizen when politicians lie and distort?
It happens here, too. In an open letter to The Economist magazine, screaming at it for daring to endorse a vote for President Cyril Ramaphosa, as I have done (at some cost), DA chief whip John Steenhuisen writes, I swear: "A weak mandate for the ANC coupled with a strong showing for the liberal DA will strengthen the push for reform by making the ANC more responsive to the country's interests. And it will prevent the ANC and the socialist, populist EFF from together achieving the constitutional majority required to change the constitution to enable expropriation without compensation."
I know a lot of people believe that. It's a longer version of Helen Zille's argument that if you want to strengthen Ramaphosa's hand then you should vote DA.
But it is not an argument. Where in the world do you support something by voting for its opposite? A weak showing for Ramaphosa would destabilise him and make him vulnerable on the Left, not the Right.
I admire both Zille and Steenhuisen personally, but I also know that however they couch their positions, they simply want me to vote for them rather than anyone else.
That's their job. They have zero interest in ensuring we have a decent man, committed to institutional reform, in the Union Buildings. They cynically try to exploit fears that Ramaphosa will be removed by his own party the moment he has won the election.
But in this country, with the opposition as relatively small as it is, the person who is president matters more than the party he or she leads. The office confers enormous powers on the holder. Ramaphosa knows this. He drafted the powers himself.
And yes, it is absolutely true that the ANC is rotten and largely useless. It is SA's pure luck that at its centre is someone of some substance. He is no saviour and probably no saint, but he is a guarantee, for a while, of some stability in a scary world.
But how do you test the DA's case for voting for it rather than for Ramaphosa, however distasteful voting ANC would be?
You go ahead and vote DA. Some credible polls have the ANC losing its majority on Wednesday. Others don't. But what does the DA do for us if the ANC falls to 45% and Ramaphosa needs the votes of other parties to govern?
You can imagine the mess. It would almost certainly create an opportunity for the EFF to get a toehold in the national government. What could the DA, in that situation, do to stabilise the country?
I've never told anyone how to vote on Wednesday, but be careful what you wish for.
The Institute of Race Relations (IRR) will bring out a final poll tomorrow. I'll wager that things will look a bit like this: the ANC is going to struggle to get 55% and is fighting hard to win over ANC waverers who may vote EFF. If the ANC holds onto them and gets them out on Wednesday, Ramaphosa could be safely north of 56%.
The DA will make a little headway and save Mmusi Maimane's leadership. Provincially, the ANC faces the real danger of losing its majorities in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
But if the IRR's polling is to be believed thus far, the big winners here are going to be the EFF, which could more than double its 2014 support of 6.3%. That would mean Julius Malema has persuaded more than a million new people to back his party. And it would spell big trouble for our future.
There's only one way to stop that on Wednesday. Go figure.

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